In the hot summer months, young dandies struggle to stand muggy climes without wilting and while remaining as elegant as possible. There are a few classic menswear methods: the light tropical wool suits favored by Italians, the white linen suit of the British colonial, the American’s favored seersucker. But sometime it’s too damn hot for any of that. Some people chuck it in and spend the day semi-nude at the beach or avoid spending any time whatsoever outside of air-conditioned environments.
I dislike air-conditioning in general, so when the mercury starts to boil I think of how my Punjabi forebears dealt with the intense Indian sun. Unfortunately I don’t have a low plantation house with deep verandahs and a punkah-wallah to fan me all day. But I do have a selection of kurtas. Kurtas are the ubiquitous ur-garment of the Indian subcontinent. Known by a few different names in different regions, the Kurta is to Indian clothing as the shirt is to Western clothing. In fact, the Kurta at its most basic is a long, collarless shirt.
There are many variations on the kurta - some with collars like western dress shirts, some formal kinds with embroidery, some made in beautiful slubbed silk fabrics. But for the purposes of keeping cool, the standard cotton kurta is best. Kurtas are made in every color imaginable, but - like shirts - the most common kind is plain white cotton.
Nowadays, most kurtas include a convenient breast pocket, which I find useful for keeping a handkerchief in, especially when it comes to wiping away sweat. Because the kurta is a collarless shirt, a tie is superfluous, but I find that tying a scarf around the neck and tucking it in a la ascot is yet another way to accessorize in style while keeping a handle on the sweat situation.
In modern India young stylish people often wear denim jeans with Kurtas, but the traditional pyjama trousers are the coolest option (unless you want to wrap a skirt-like dhoti or lunghi around your legs,) and these can be worn in the comfy and cool baggy shalwar style, or the more exotic churidar pants, which are loose at the thighs but tight and bunched at the calves like jodhpurs. Wear these for a rakish maharajah look.
The white cotton kurta pyjama combination is ideal if you’re just lounging around the house on hot summer days, but kurtas are meant to be informal clothing for any occasion. When it’s time to head out into the sun, add a panama hat and some spectator shoes or suede loafers to complete the look.
If you’re interested in buying a kurta, check out Fab India for some of the best styles, including some beautiful colored silk ones.